US declares ‘most’ of China’s maritime claims in South China Sea illegal

US declares ‘most’ of China’s maritime claims in South China Sea illegal

Describing the move as “strengthening American policy,” the senior US diplomat said, “Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely illegal, as is its campaign to intimidate control”.

“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire. America stands alongside our allies and partners in Southeast Asia to protect their sovereign rights over offshore resources, in accordance to their rights and obligations under international law, “said Pompeo in a long statement.

The move is “quite significant,” said Gregory Poling, principal researcher for Southeast Asia and director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“What the United States has basically said is that we will remain neutral on who owns which island or which rock in the South China Sea, but we will no longer remain silent on the claims illegal activities on the waters, “said Poling. adding that in the past the United States had been “wary” of the matter.

Poling told CNN that “it depends a lot on how” the United States followed up on Monday’s announcement, but called it a “diplomatic coup”.

“This allows the United States to very clearly characterize China’s activities as illegal, not only destabilizing or unnecessary, but to say that it is illegal,” he said. “It helps partners like Vietnam and the Philippines, and it will put pressure on other countries – Europeans, for example – to get out of the fence and say something themselves.”

Align with the UN

Pompeo said on Monday that the United States is aligning its position with that of a 2016 United Nations tribunal decision that sided with the Philippines against China’s claims that it had historic claims and economic over much of the South China Sea. The unanimous decision “rejected the maritime claims (of the People’s Republic of China) as having no basis in international law,” noted the senior US diplomat, adding: “As the United States has already stated, and as expressly provided for in the Convention, arbitration The decision of the Tribunal is final and legally binding on both parties. “

In the statement, Pompeo also referred to China’s attempts to establish maritime claims within the exclusive economic zones of other countries, areas extending 200 miles into the sea from the shore. The top US diplomat specifically stated that China “cannot legally assert a maritime claim – including any exclusive economic zone (EEZ) claim derived from the Scarborough Reef and the Spratly Islands – against the Philippines in areas that the Tribunal has judged in the EEZ of the Philippines or on its continental shelf. “

He also dismissed China’s claims on Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal – “which fall entirely under the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines” – and stated that China “has no legal territorial or maritime claims (or derivative) of James Shoal, a fully submerged entity only 50 nautical miles from Malaysia and about 1,000 nautical miles from the Chinese coast. “

In addition, the United States “rejects any maritime claim by the PRC in the waters around Vanguard Bank (off Vietnam), Luconia Shoals (off Malaysia), the waters of the Brunei EEZ and Natuna Besar (on off Indonesia) “.

US Navy organizes challenges following Beijing claims in the South China Sea

“Any action by the PRC to harass the fishing or development of other States’ hydrocarbons in these waters – or to carry out such activities unilaterally – is illegal,” said Pompeo.

Zack Cooper, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, told CNN “this is really the heart of it all.”

“The United States professes to support the rights of these countries in these areas. Now if the United States wants to come and support an ally or partner in the South China Sea that is being pushed by China, it now has the rationale legal to say China’s actions are illegal in our opinion … even if Pompeo previously indicated that they were coercive actions on the part of the Chinese, he probably would not have said that they were illegal , now he can, “he said.

In the midst of heightened tensions between the two nations and after China completed its naval exercises in disputed waters, the United States sent two Navy aircraft carriers to the South China Sea.

Operating under the name of Nimitz Carrier Strike Force, the US aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan, “conducted several tactical exercises designed to maximize air defense capabilities and extend the range of precision maritime strikes long-range from airplanes, “said a US Navy statement last week.

According to Lt. Cmdr, this is the first time since 2014, and only the second since 2001, that two American carriers have operated together in the South China Sea. Sean Brophy, spokesperson aboard the Reagan.

CNN’s Kylie Atwood and Brad Lendon contributed to this report.

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